February 20, 2009
I am seriously, seriously at a loss about why so many well-thinking people are up in arms about Ernie Smith being caught shitting through his mouth. That’s this is a habit of his is quite well known and clearly tolerated. Remember the “virginity testing” proposal a few years ago? In fact, he is a member of an organization called Parliament, where one criterion for membership is willingness to talk out of one’s ass rather than using one’s intellect. And although a few have slipped in under the radar, there are many others who feel it is their duty to uphold this particular standard of membership. This has been true for many years now.
I am thinking that maybe our consciousness about the profound violence being done to us through words and utterances has been heightened by the daggering debates, the barefaced lies and corruption taking shape in front of us as if we are stupid, the glaring ineptness of our political leaders on any issue you name at the moment. I don’t really know. But it seems that we have hit a kind of threshold of tolerance, and now we say we can’t take it anymore. Good thing, yes. But what is so so frightening to me is that we have waited so long, allowed so many psyches to be destroyed, lives to be taken, misinformation to become known as gospel, treated the spiteful vipers as messiahs, and condemned common decency and respect for our fellow citizen to the dungle heap. I am wondering who else is being sacrificed right now while we deal with this issue. Actually, I am not wondering; I know. What a state to be in!
This is not a country where people feel the need to be kind to one another. We don’t have any defined standards for how to talk to each other. People say the meanest and most debased things to one another, just so. Compassion is not our first love; its more about retribution and punishment. Love is not what we live. And using language to cut each other down is what we admire and nurture best here. That’s what makes dancehall DJs so popular; the art of the quick tongue; the carefully worded verse that sends a vibe that ricochets off the soul. And dem im lik it again just in case you missed it the first time: come dung selector!
It is in the “do I know you?” “and who did you say you were?” and “do you know who you are talking to?” It is in the “hol yuh corner” and the utter refusal to believe that there are more than two sides to a story. It is in the ridiculous reverence for numbers of degrees, and each degree entitles one to say the most insulting and ridiculous things, never to be challenged for the credibility of the sources, the veracity of the information, the logic of the argument. It just IS because someone of importance said it. And they must know, shouldn’t they? It is in the maddening genuflection to “government” and “politicians” as know-it-alls, although they know nothing much except how to use their power to extort more out of the citizenry without giving much in return. Why else then do we elect persons who can barely utter a completely correct sentence, and who use their marital status, number of children, and reverence for the Bible as qualification for public office? Why else do we quietly accept, and give more power to, persons who seem to reside in some nether-world where every utterance is equivalent to every other utterance, no matter whether what is said does violence to another’s identity.
We just don’t understand this concept. We just don’t get that words harm, and that those who are harmed have a right to say that they have been harmed, and to refuse to be treated in such a manner.
Since Buju Banton touched off a storm with his “boom bye bye” we have been having a conversation that has gone nowhere, fast. Words harm. Language does violence. Violence is not always physical, it is also ideological, psychic, emotional. But make no mistake: harm has been done.
And the one thing that has characterized this society since at least 1993, is a sincere commitment to destroying gay and lesbian identity from its most physical dimensions – ravaging the bodies of men and women through rape and death – to its social dimensions – creating distorted representations of us through stereotypes as man-hating, child-molesting, violence-prone, diseased, anti-family bodies, and denying us the ability to live, work and love in the country of our birth without fear – to its psychic and spiritual dimensions – calling us evil, diseased, a scorge on the soil, unfit to be loved, touched, healed, or even buried alongside the more righteous ones. This war – and it is a war – has been ongoing, and virtually unabated for over sixteen years now. Sixteen years. That is the length of a generation. That means there is at least one entire generation that has never not seen or heard lesbians and gay men talked about in anything other than the most disparaging ways, as less than persons to be shed from the body politic – whether by death, disease or hiding them away in the recesses of the family wardrobe. This is what we have been doing, taking occasional breaths by focusing our attention on the other queer body – w0rking class women who are having too much sex, too many children, doing too much daggering, etc. etc. etc. etc. And when that runs its course, we are back to gays and lesbians. Because after all, the job was not finished. They are still here.
We now have new rightwing groups who have made it their raison d’etre to target women’s bodies and queer bodies; they intend to ground us into constitutional dust through any number of state-sanctioned regulations and calls to moral vigilantism that would make us into non-citizens, permanent aliens. And they have spewn their hate, lord have they spewn their hate, in the name of legal arguments, pounding us into oblivion with scriptures, threats of hell and damnation and what not. But we have not gone away. They have said no less than Ernie Smith ie. that gays and lesbians are not full citizens by virtue of their sexual practices, and are thus not entitled to full protection under the law. The Justice Minister A.J. Nicholson said it; the Public Defender Earl Witter said it; Peter Phillips said it; Bruce Golding said it; PJ Patterson said it. Everybody who has felt the need to prove their Jamaican-ness has said it: gays and lesbians ought to be expelled from the national body, or rendered silent, however we choose to accomplish that. If we can’t even agree and forcefully argue that gays and lesbians are entitled to privacy, then how are we going to let something like “freedom of association” be respected for this group? There’s no contradiction – NONE – in the consistent ways in which gays and lesbians have been denied full citizenship in this country. And those questions and utterances have been legitimized by the silence of more than a few. It is not only the rabid ones who are to blame for what has come to pass.
JFLAG’s existence has been questioned, not once, not twice, but ever since it came into being in 1998. Who do they think they are, our “veteran journalists” said? What exactly do they think they are doing, acting like they have a right to speak, said our “well-respected religious and civic leaders”? Who came out and defended JFLAG’s right to exist? Not even JFLAG has always been able to articulate that it is the nature of a democratic society that people can organize themselves around their shared concerns and advocate for themselves, despite what others thing. And even JFLAG may well have doubted itself and its existence, tenuous as it has been; only one person at a time is ever publicly associated with the organization; the last person fled the country to seek asylum elsewhere last year. Jason is now at the helm holding his own, and is he ever. I am so proud of him right now. JFLAG is the source of the framing of the critique of Ernie Smith’s utterance as an affront to democracy, and don’t you all forget it!
What is even more amazing to me is that the argument is taking hold. I think we are waking up, readers. Yes, I think we are maturing; we are figuring out what it means to live in a democracy, and that such an existence does not allow the utterances of Ernie Smith to go unrecognized for what it is, nor to be left unchallenged lest he be taken to be right. And there are many who will agree with him. But maybe, just maybe, some of the silent ones, who have allowed this climate of ignorance and hate to fester for 16 years, are ready to say ENOUGH. And maybe we are ready to start acting like we live in a democracy, where every single one of us is responsible for creating and defending a society where ALL of us can live and fully exist, regardless of what we think of each other’s views. I am the kind of person who would lay wait for Ernie Smith and throw a bag of human shit at him, to complement what came out of his mouth. I do believe in live and direct protest after all.
But what I really want is for us who believe that we are better than what Ernie/Beenie/Al/Shirley/AJ/Bruce/Buju etc. have reduced us to, to start creating new ways of talking, living and working together as Jamaicans that does not require us to name those who we disagree with as the ENEMY, or to plot the other’s demise because we feel morally superior to them. Let the village idiot run around screaming all manners of garbage. But let there be few people who are standing on the sidelines waving and cheering him on, and let even a few wait for him to stop and calm down, then offer him a glass of coconut water, and ask him if he wants a place to rest his head, or a ride home. Then let him go home to wherever he came from, as we continue building something better that he might not even recognize when he passes back this way. Because, he WILL be back. And if not him, someone just like him.
And let’s not keep electing these people to office, please. It makes us look even more stupid than him.
P.S. Hilaire Sobers also weighed in on this issue, using nicer words of course, to frame the problem.
November 24, 2008
Heh heeyyyh!! When Butch Stewart’s editorial agrees with me, well, I don’t know what’s about to happen, but something is.
In today’s editorial:
“Many Jamaicans may not wish to believe it, but there are some issues on which the majority of our people have more in common with the Republicans and the American political right than with the liberal Democrats and president-elect Mr Barack Obama. Those issues include gay rights, abortion and, of course, the death penalty.”
Of course, he also wrote some other scary cowardly things, but I won’t address those. You can, though!
Meantime, look out fi di rivva mumma or di rollin’ cyaaf inna broad daylight…
June 9, 2008
I’ve been thinking about sex a lot these days. And I’ve come up with the 5 Commandments that women are asked to follow here in Jamaica:
1. Have as much sex as you want.
2. Hide what you are doing at all costs.
3. Tell one ‘hole ‘eap a lie when yuh buck yuh toe an mek dem see seh yuh fall dung.
4. Expect all k’i’na fiyah fi bun fi yuh when backra fine out.
5. Lie dung an beg fi mercy like sey yuh a ‘ungry belly mongrel dog.
And those of us who, for all kinds of reasons, decide not to abide by all of these commandments – well, a pyere problems, yes? Kwame Dawes just wrote a really insightful piece in the Washington Post about Annesha Taylor, who was the poster girl for the Ministry of Health’s public education campaign about HIV/AIDS. Just like Sara Lawrence, the Miss Jamaica World 2006 who was the target of public scorn and hypocrisy when she disclosed that she was pregnant last year, Annesha was immediately disappeared by MOH when she disclosed that she too was bearing a child.
The swirl of concern and debate around these women has not really been about them at all. Rather, it’s about the naive and dangerously simplistic story that was built up around them, and which these young 20-something women implictly agreed to by their participation: the story that these vibrant and beautiful women are mere “symbols” not people with active sex lives, who can speak without uttering a cliche, and who want companionship and pleasure the same way most of us do. It is telling that, no matter that their choices are much more closely aligned with the lives of many other 20-something women in similar circumstances, the MOH and the other cultural gatekeepers cannot come up with any other strategy but to punish them by demonizing them and making them objects of public ridicule. Wouldn’t this a great opportunity to talk about the reality of abstinence — namely, that it doesn’t work, and surely not for most people? Wouldn’t this be a good time to begin addressing that other reality that 20-somethings know only too well ie. that sexual intercourse between (and among) men and women is already risky, and that maybe harm reduction and more frank, open, informed dialogue about the complexities of sex might be more in line with what we need right now.
Annesha’s case, as reported by Kwame, reveals the immoral trades that Black (esp. working class) women are still being asked to make: their bodies for their children’s lives. Access to drugs, to companionship, to a structured environment to raise her children, to income, is dependent on her making a variety of trades, that only marginally benefit her. We learn that access to the life-saving candy from Big Pharma comes at a cost, to all of us women: our government is asked to push a bankrupt policy of abstinence and monogamy, which doesn’t even work in their country, much less in ours. Monogamy, from the perspective of the religious and political conservatives who are the decisionmakers at Big Pharma, means a particular thing: marriage. No common law foolishness fi dem. Of course, if anybody has cared to pay attention to our history through lenses not tainted by Victorianism, we might see that women in Jamaica generally do (serial) monogamy; marriage is not the be-all and end-all for most. Of course, this unintentional boycott of the shackles of marriage in Jamaica is taking place, despite our being told that we are moral reprobates for not marrying the pathetic men who often come our way.
So how about the MOH tailoring a message that speaks to our realities as women? Oh no! Because the MOH (like most of our society) are really stuck in the 17th century, and really do believe that it is still a “problem” that women are not married (via church and govt) to the men who are the sperm donors to their children. Annesha clearly recognizes that she was caught in this double bind, and that the code of respectability still reigns as ever before. However, its not marriage campaigns doing that ideological work in the 21st century, its “reproductive health” and “family planning” policies.
Annesha and Sara, as black Jamaican women, are finding out that there’s no half-way about becoming the paragon of [rehabilitated] virtue these days in Jamdung. So you feel like you’re informed, educated and respected enough, and therefore have the authority to do your own thing ie. live in ways that entirely normal within this cultural milieu? That’s nice. But, my dears, you must remember that its not enough that you get to be poster-child; there was some fine print that you didn’t read. Stepping up as poster children for black women also means that you have agreed to be even more constrained by the morality debates enshrined in the 5 Commandments. Past “sins” of black women over the past 4 centuries are most certainly not going to be forgiven or forgotten; for that reason, it is even more necessary that you pretend to change your ways, as if you are “born-again”; and to act as if your entire life and framework have changed, while you continue to do what you always have done. Accommodation to the rules and acquiescence to being gatekeepers is what was expected of you. And that’s where you fucked up, my pretties.
For me, beyond the implications I have pointed out or alluded to above, is an urgent need to disregard the 5 Commandments entirely, and to rewrite the rules by which women can make decisions about their sexual lives without the overbearing hand of governmental or religious mandates. While Sara and Annesha are aware of the ideas embedded in the 5 Commandments, it would be too much to assume that they would reject these rules. They too, remain beholden to the systems which regulate the most intimate aspects of our lives. And so, even with first-hand knowledge of how utterly bankrupt and destructive that system can be for individuals, they may still emerge as its biggest supporters. That would be a pity, but certainly not unexpected.
Its the rest of us that I am looking to for inspiration and change: to be sexual renegades within a moral framework that is built on mutual respect for each other’s humanity, a sense of loyalty to each other, a commitment to standing up for each other’s health and wellbeing, and an ever-present awareness that our sexuality is not the beginning or essence of who we are, just another source of creative possibility and means to better living. I don’t think those ideas will be broadcast on any MOH billboard or ad anytime soon.
So, where do we start? Well, while we’re collecting dollar coins to make our own public education campaign, we adults should start practicing ethical sex right now: not just in terms of who you do whatever wtih, but also how we talk about sex to our children, co-workers, clients, etc. Sex isn’t just about biology, risk and problems. Its also – more importantly – about social interaction, pleasure, making babies (these are not mutually exclusive at all).
We also need fi start organize wi pickney dem fi aks question an’ tell di odder parents dem fi demand better discussions bout sex a’ school. Dem deh morality foolishness wha dem a teach n’ah go mek nobody feel sweet or hug yuh up a night time, so mek dem gwa’an bout dem bizness. If yuh an dem whe’n deh tell di pickney dem ów much a clock, dem wouldn’a sex off one anneder inna some nasty bathroom and stairwell like seh a sports day dem deh (well, dem prob’ly woulda use di teacha desk instead…).
May 14, 2008
Ok, so I was just reading this article online. Since the self-appointed Bishop did not tell us what the seven laws were — maybe its a trade secret or something — maybe unnu can tell me what you think they are? Cause I have no idea. Maybe is because ah not a man, so I guess I wouldn’t know…